[xmca] Listen, Foreigner!

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Tue Apr 15 2008 - 22:18:46 PDT

I just read Michalis' article, and I have TWO rather sophomoric questions:
  a) "The practice of viewing the world as a single order which exists prior to and independently of science is deeply (?) rooted in modernity, where also (sic) developmental psychology originated." (p. 2) Michalis then goes on to talk about how this idea of a universal order is really a cover for the white European adult male or a god made in his image. Doesn't this really suggest that the idea of order existing prior to and independently of human knowing is indeed deeply rooted, but in history rather than modernity (and of course in historical materialism as well)?
  b) "In relational terms, one could claim that multiple realities are possible: different semiotic material practices would not only concern the child's or student's development but would even create new or different relations between subjectivities and objectivities." (p. 17) Doesn't this suggest a spurious "equality" and also unconnectedness between different discursive constructions of reality? (In the study Michalis does, it is quite clear that he considers the interview data to be more realistic than the "graph" data.)
  And now two practical problems, both of which I think suggest that one reality rules, and that is actually more than enough for most people.
  a) On Thursday we had a lecturer from Leeds University, Melinda Whong, on one of Jackendoff's latest attempts to provide parallel architecture for phonology, syntax and semantics. He concluded that WORD MEANING was relational, and that it in fact was the relationship between these three architectures; it has no independent existence.
  During the discussion, I asked how Jackendoff's very non-functional (i.e. structuralist) account could explain what happens to the article ("a"/"the") in the following three sentences, from an elementary school teacher presenting a dialogue about a Korean girl and a foreign tourist.
  i) T (holding up a picture): This is a foreigner.
  ii) T (dividing the class into halves): Now, over here, you are the foreigner.
  iii) T (teaching the lines of the dialogue): Listen, Foreigner! "Excuse me!" Repeat, Foreigner!
  Professor Whong tried bravely, discussing how definiteness (semantics) interfaced with determiner phrase structure (syntax) and cliticization (phonology). But she couldn't account for the disappearance of the article in example iii).
  Thinking it over, it seems to me that the missing element is really TIME. Example i) simply says that the foreigner is a NEW foreigner. Example ii) says that it is that same OLD foreigner (which is why "the" is connected to words like "this" and "that" and "there" and "then" and "these" and "those") and not some new one (which would be "another" foreigner). It's like tense or aspect rather than like definiteness or determinacy, only it's attached to NOUNS instead of VERBS.
  So what happens in example iii)? Easy! It's an imperative, and it's addressed directly to the imaginary persona. When you address someone, you use a NAME, not a noun. That explains why it's capitalized, and why "Mr. Foreigner" would work just as well (or better, because "Listen, Foreigner" is socioculturally RUDE) and why the article disappears. The underlying reality is not "phonological" OR "syntactic" OR even semantic, but pragmatic; language is the self-consciousness of culture rather than oracle of structure.
  b) There's a new book out edited by Sinfroni Makoni and Alistair Pennycook that argues that language death is really an illusion, because there really isn't any such thing as a language, there are only dialects and idiolects, and "language" is merely an abstraction from these deeply rooted in modernity and in much need of "disinvention". A language is simply a dialect with a nation, a bourgeois government, and a standing army. Ways of speaking are metastable; they change and remain by changing, and therefore are neither created nor destroyed.
  The problem with this book is that most language death does not happen because people voluntary give up a language and pick up another. Most language death, historically, takes place through genocide. To really deny language death it is not enough to deny the homogeneity of national languages and affirm the polyglossia of ordinary people. To really deny language death, you have to "disinvent" holocausts.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
  Makoni, S and Pennycook A (2007) Disinventing Language. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

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Received on Tue Apr 15 22:21 PDT 2008

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